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Expert Advice on Growing Hypericum


Hypericum is a group of about 400 plants but only a few of them are commonly grown in the UK. Hypericum Hidcote is by the most common of the group producing masses of medium sized yellow flowers in July to August. It is evergreen in most winters and forms an attractive dome shaped shrub which is extremely easy to care for.

The origins of Hypericum (also known as St John's Wort) are not known because it now so common in almost all parts of the world. In some parts they are considered as weeds.

Hypericum flower close-up
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Use the checklist below to decide if Hypericum Hidcote is the correct plant for you and your garden:

  • They grow to a maximum height of 1.5m / 5ft and a slightly larger spread.
     
  • The green leaves are normally evergreen although in hard winters they can be dropped for a couple of months.
     
  • In July they produce large numbers of medium sized yellow flowers which last until mid August. A second flush often occurs in late August to early September but it rarely amounts to much.
     
  • They grow best in partial shade and but tolerate full shade and full sun well.
     
  • They grow well in almost all soil types but avoid highly acidic or alkaline ones.
     
  • Established plants require no attention other than an annual prune to shape. This can be done with a hedge trimmer or a pair of secateurs.
     
  • They are hardy down to -12°C so should survive well in winter for almost all areas of the UK.
     
  • They can be grown in containers but this not their ideal environment.
     
  • Some parts of the plant can cause problems if eaten. Some people use them for combatting depression but take medical advice before doing so.
     
  • No specialist knowledge is required to grow them and they are rarely affected by pests or diseases.
     

HOW TO PLANT HYPERICUM HIDCOTE


Follow the steps below to ensure your Hypericum 'Hidcote' is planted correctly:
  • Choose a position in partial shade for best results but they truly are adaptable shrubs for shade and full sun. They can be planted in soil conditions except extremely acidic or alkaline conditions.
     
  • This is a fast growing shrub which can grow about 40cm in height and width each year. Allow for at least a 1.5m / 5ft spread when full sized.
     
  • It can be planted all year long if the soil is not frozen and you can water well when conditions are dry. Mid March to April and mid September to October are the best times to plant.
     
  • Dig a hole twice the width of the rootball. Sprinkle in a handful of blood, fish and bone and work into the ground.
     
  • Place the plant into the hole, filling in with soil so that it is at the same depth as was in the pot. Fill around the rootball and firm the soil down gently but firmly. Water well to settle the surrounding ground around the rootball.

CARING FOR HYPERICUM


When established a Hypericum will look after itself. There is no need to feed them unless the ground is very low in nutrients. Neither is watering required except in severe drought. The tough nature of these shrubs is well understood by council landscape gardeners whose only care, if any, is an annual prune.

Hypericum bush
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For younger plants up to two years old, water if conditions become dry. A twice yearly feed with blood, fish and bone in spring and autumn will help it to establish a good root system. Keep the area around the base of the plant free from weeds and grass. Clear leaves and other debris which falls on them. There are no common pests or diseases of this plant.

HOW AND WHEN TO PRUNE HYPERICUM HIDCOTE


Hypericum Hidcote flowers on stems which have not produced buds in the current year and the standard advice is to prune it in early spring, some time in March. This will result in the flowers appearing a week or so later than they would if the shrub was not pruned at all.

However, we always prune ours in late summer to early autumn when the flowers are no longer being produced. This seems to work better compared to spring pruning, with the flowers being produced slightly earlier but just as good. Buds do not form on the new shoots, which will grow after pruning, until the next year.

The method of pruning is simple, use whatever implement you have (we use a hedge trimmer) and cut to shape. It's no more complicated than that, whatever size the plant is. Established hypericums grow rapidly after pruning so prune away a little more than you might think is needed. An established hypericum can be pruned down to a coupe of feet high and wide without any risk of damaging it.

HYPERICUM FROST DAMAGE


Hypericum are frost hardy down to -12C which is rarely encountered in the UK. However a combination of extended sub zero temperatures, snow and wind can cause significant damage to the normally evergreen leaves.

The picture below is interesting because it shows brown, dead leaves on most of the hypericum in our garden with only the right side (protected from wind by the close by evergreen tree) still showing green leaves. When we look at the hypericums on our estate, and there are many, they all show similar damage.

Frost and wind damage to an Hypericum shrub
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In the late winter of 2018 temperatures fell in our area to a low of -7C and over many days they remained below zero even during the day. At the same time there were strong winds and heavy prolonged snow. This resulted in the majority of the leaves turning brown and dying. Exactly the same damage occurred  to all the hypericums on our estate.

Many people emailed me to ask if their hypericums were dead. We took a close look at ours a couple of weeks after the damage occurred. The close-up picture below shows that damage looked worse than it actually was.

Close up of hypericum frost damage
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The two stems above show that regrowth of the foliage is occurring although only in a few places. But all the stems have clear signs of healthy viable buds which will soon sprout new leaves. So, on 28th March although our hypericum looked like a lost cause, it actually has every chance of fully recovering! We will post one more picture at the end of April to show you how it has progressed.

WHERE TO BUY HYPERICUM HIDCOTE


Many garden centres sell Hypericum especially from July to August to November when they are in flower. They are also commonly sold online. Jackson's Nurseries sell these plants at a good price. However, they are so easy to propagate from semi-hardwood cuttings in July and August (and so commonly found in gardens and parks) that this is a sure fire method of acquiring your own for free.

One particular variety of hypericum which caught our attention is Hypericum olympicum 'Edith'. We saw it at Wisley RHS in June and it's a stunner. Growing only 30 cm high or so it spreads significantly. It can easily be kept under control by regular pruning. It's not commonly sold but if you can find it, it's well worth the effort. See the picture below.

Hypericum-olympicum-Edith
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Hypericum olympicum 'Edith'

HYPERICUM HIDCOTE SUMMARY


Below we list the key strengths and weaknesses of this shrub.
 
 
HARDY 4.5 star hardiness rating(to -12°C)
   
CLAY SOIL Yes 
SANDY SOIL  Yes 
   
DRY SOIL No
   
SHADE  Partial, full shade, full sun
   
EVERGREEN  Yes
   
EASY CARE 5 easy care rating 
SMALL GARDENS  Yes
   
POT / CONTAINER No
   
FLOWERING  4.5 star flowering rating
   
FLOWER TIME July to August

COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS

Date: 01 August 2018 From: Mary G
QUESTION: Can hypericum be divided?

ANSWER: I've never tried to propagate hypericum from division because taking cuttings is far easier. However, yes hypericums can be divided, the best time to do that is early autumn.


Date: 15 July 2018 From: Rosina H
QUESTION: My hypericum (planted last year) looks very healthy and has had plenty of flowers. However, these are now almost over and it's only mid-July. Others in our village are still flowering profusely. Any ideas?

ANSWER: I had many questions earlier this year about hypericums being apparently damaged by the very cold weather. Mine was certainly damaged.

But they all seem to have recovered. Those which were damaged the worst, mine included, started to flower the latest of all and are only now beginning to stop flowering. Others who were affected, but not so badly, begun flowering a week or two earlier.

They also stopped flowering a week or two earlier. The position of the hypericum seems to be crucial to how it was affected. Those subject to high winds suffered most.

So, it all seems to be down to the unusually cold winter. Normal flower production will hopefully resume in 2019.


Date: 9 June 2018 From: Kroare
QUESTION: Can they be grown in large pots?

ANSWER: Almost any plant can be grown in a container but hypericum would prove very difficult.


Date: 11 May 2018 From: Michael
QUESTION: Almost every publication I can find says Hypericum Hidcote grows to a maximum of around 1 metre. Yet my neighbour has a hedge of what looks very much like it at 2 metres. Which I want to copy. CAN they grow higher if allowed, or have I mis-identified my neighbour's?

ANSWER: This website says above "They grow to a maximum height of 1.5m / 5ft and a slightly larger spread.".

If I look out of my front window I can see three hypericums, one of them mine. They are all very well established and all at almost exactly the same height of 1.5m. I think that 1.5m is about as tall as they grow, maybe slightly higher if you don't prune the top and just prune the sides.


Date: 5 May 2018 From: Cathy
QUESTION: My hypericum is 40 yrs old. I always pruned in autumn but this year left til April. It looks in bad state now. Few leaves. Is it time to dig out & start again?

ANSWER: My advice is to look at the hypericum closely. From a distance it may appear to be nearly dead after the harsh winter but if you can see small green shoots when you are close up it will almost certainly recover.

I would then prune it, either now or in early autumn to remove dead branches.


Date: 13 March 2017 From: Joy
QUESTION: My hypericum bush is 4-5foot tall. I normally trim it early March, but last year there was a lot of seemingly dead branches, especially in the centre parts of it. This year I am not sure if I should try to remove all this 'dead' wood. If I did, there would not be much left. I'd appreciate your advice.

ANSWER: Hypericum are very strong growing shrubs, especially after they have been pruned. As long as you are sure the wood is dead then I would prune it all away.

The problem of identifying dead wood is one reason why I always prune mine immediately after flowering.


Date: 02 March 2017 From: Stephen
QUESTION: Most sites recommend pruning Hypericum Hidcote in spring. Is this the right time to prune or after flowering? I would like to reduce height from six to five feet. If i can prune now, do i need to wait until there is no frost? Will it still produce flowers in July?

ANSWER: After flowering is the best time to prune hypericum in my experience although many do recommend spring.
 
If you prune hypericum in mid-spring you stand a chance of removing some of the forming flower buds. Much depends on which area of the UK you live in.

I would also recommend that you prune it hard. Once hypericum reach 6 ft high they grow astonishingly quickly after pruning.
 
No joke, I would recommend pruning it back by a half. I say that from past experience over many years with the one I have in my garden. Prune yours by half after flowering this year and I can almost guarantee it will be 5 foot tall and wide next year.


Date: 15 August 2016 From: Little Nu
Other sites recommend pruning in spring. Has anyone pruned in August and did the plant flower well next year?

Date: 7 August 2016 From: John
Can hypericum be trimmed to make a low formal hedge and if so how far apart should I plant it?

ANSWER: Yes they can, and they make ideal low hedges. If you want to keep them well trimmed the height will be about 1 metre.

Planting distance depends on how long you want to wait for a dense hedge. Plant them at 3 per metre for a quick growing hedge, down to about 1 per metre if you can wait a year longer.


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